Layer 0 of the network stack proves to be most tricky

Schools benefitting from pooling networking resources

Networking of schools has proved a benefit not only to education but to getting a good price for technology, says Charles Newton, of Nelson’s Nayland College.

He was describing local Nelson network The Loop to the Digital Cities and Regional Networks conference in Wellington last week.

One school negotiating on its own with a telco or other ICT supplier is likely to be “screwed”, he says. He promptly tried to put the frank comment “off the record” but was told that thanks to the power of telecommunications, it had already been webcast potentially worldwide. In any event, a clutch of co-operating schools sharing knowledge and resources is in a far more advantageous position when negotiating with a supplier, he says.

The Loop connects 13 Nelson-area primary and secondary schools in a network using common non-proprietary standards and shared resources, allowing them all to take advantage of “learning objects” and information exchange. Emphasis is on the deployment of mutimedia and a framework for collaborative working.

The aim for the network is to be “fat [in bandwidth terms], fast and free”, the last in the sense of “free access”, he says, not zero cost.

The basis of The Loop was established when electiricity company Network Tasman laid fibre along with a power distribution network. Several speakers at the conference said it no longer makes sense for any company to dig a trench for any kind of utility without seizing the chance to put in communications links.

The schools, together with the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, reached a collaborative deal with TelstraClear for wide-area communications. The Loop links to the Probe network and the Nelson and Wellington Internet Exchanges (NIX and WIX).

Taking advantage of such a development meant a co-operative paradigm that is somewhat at odds with a decade of cultivating autonomy by individual New Zealand schools, he says, a point made by others during conversation at the conference.

Backers of the network are now considering extension to a more generally accessible “Top of the South” network with 20,000 potential users.

Southland District mayor Frana Cardno gave an upbeat account of the benefits broadband had brought to her district, from the networking of Southland’s 102 schools to the huge improvement in speed and reliability of internet connections for the area’s dairy farmers.

The resulting improvements in farm management, she claims, have brought an average increase in earnings of 4% to 5% or $150 million. She listed other knowledge workers, from genetics researcher Imelda Sutherland to acoustics engineer Harold Marshal, who have been able to remain in the district while using their skills internationally.

Richard Naylor of Wellington’s CityLink delivered what is probably the most quotable line of the conference: “The road is a temporary cover for underground services.” He had, he acknowledged, lifted the line from a sewage engineer. CityLink has struck its share of “road-protection Nazis” driving it to seek innnovative solutions to locating fibre without too much excavation.

Naylor has devised his own extension of the seven-layer ISO network model. Below ISO layer 1, the physical medium, comes Layer 0, the support for the medium, be it a trench, duct or trolleybus-wire pole. Beyond the ISO top-level application layer he places six more, such as “Layer 10 — payback” and “Layer 13 — the reason you did it in the first place”.

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